Saturday, April 5, 2014

Happy Birthday Hobbes

The only birthday present Thomas Hobbes ever wanted...

Thomas Hobbes (born April 5, 1588) is of course most well-known for his work Leviathan, and is still regarded today as one of the giants in the history of philosophy. Indeed as Edwin Curley suggests at the opening of his "Introduction" to Leviathan, Hobbes could certainly be seen as a man who would fit right in to today's world:
Hobbes has suffered a fate shared by many classic authors. His greatest work is more often quoted than fully carefully and thoroughly read. There are reasons for this. Hobbes took pains to be quotable, sometimes at the cost of obscuring his message.
Hobbes is indeed most remembered for his description of life in the "state of nature" as "nasty, poor, brutish, and short." It is thus not surprising perhaps that Hobbes—whose prose has burrowed its way into our collective unconscious—would liken himself to a "worm" in describing his own birthday:
In Fifteen Hundred Eighty Eight, Old Style,
When that armada did invade our isle,
Called the invincible, whose freight was then,
Nothing but murd'ring steel, and murd'ring men,
Most of which navy was disperst, or lost,
And had the fate to perish on our coast,
April the fifth (though now with age outworn)
I'th'early spring, I, a poor worm, was born.
As such, I think it fitting to celebrate Hobbes' birthday by celebrating some of his works that have spent their lives further below ground...

"A drawing of the connection of the eye and the brain, part of Thomas Hobbes's treatise on optics: London, British Library"
From Thomas Hobbes on Optics Online:
The manuscript of Thomas Hobbes's tract, A Minute or first Draught of the Optiques, is now available online on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. Harley MS 3360 was made in Paris in 1646, as a presentation copy for William Cavendish, marquis of Newcastle (d. 1676), to whom the work is dedicated. This manuscript contains the title-page (f. 1r), dedication to Cavendish (ff. 2r-4r), list of contents (f. 5r-v), and the treatise itself in two parts (ff. 6r-71r, 72v-193r). It entered the Harley library on 7 August 1724, which collection was sold to the nation in 1753 for £10,000 under the Act of Parliament that also established the British Museum.
Translating Homer as a way to get back into intellectual circles, not the worst idea in the world...
From Translating Homer: From Papyri to Alexander Pope:
Hobbes's masterpiece Leviathan, or, The Matter, Form, and Power of a Common-wealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651) caused him trouble with the loyalists during the Cromwell's era because they thought the book endorsed the change of  political allegiances if a monarch was cruel. At the age of eighty-five, when his philosophical works had been banned, Hobbes returned to the classical studies of his youth, as his extrardinary translation of Thucydides well attested, and began to write his English version of the Homeric poems. First published in 1676, his translaton of the Odyssey was so successful that he was encouraged to undertake the translation of the Iliad as well. His literary style was concise and direct as one can easily observe in his version of the first four verses of the Iliad
O goddess sing what woe the discontent
Of Thetis' son brought to the Greeks: what souls
Of heroes down to Erebus it sent,
Leaving their bodies unto dogs ad fowls.
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